On March 27, volunteers from Neoga High School, EIU Department of Geology & Geography, and Friends of Lake Mattoon met at the Michael Emmerich property west of Lake Paradise to plant over 1,500 trees and shrubs.

The goal of this tree planting is to help to improve water quality in the Little Wabash River, Lake Mattoon, and downstream all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Excess nutrients and siltation are two main sources of pollution in our local rivers, caused by runoff from agricultural fields. Students in the Neoga High School Earth and Space Science class calculated a reduction of storm water of approximately 55% from the site after the trees grow and become established, compared to the same site used for row crops. Nitrogen and phosphorous running off from the site will also be reduced, because they will be taken up by the trees.

Amy Brown, biology and earth science teacher at Neoga High School, sought a grant from the NOAA Planet Stewards for the tree planting project to coincide with the earth science class’ first semester study of watersheds and water quality. She put out a message through the Friends of Lake Mattoon social media last year asking for any landowners interested in a conservation project on their property. Michael Emmerich contacted Brown to say that he was interested.

Discussing his interest in pursuing the project, Emmerich said, “Conservation efforts to preserve our natural resources have always been important to me. To be able to partner with NHS and do that on ground that had been in my family for over 150 years is especially gratifying.”

Moving forward, the plan will be to continue to monitor the tree planting and water quality in the coming years to document the progress with runoff and nutrient reduction.

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